She was an old friend; long treasured in the scrapbooks of life… yellowed over the tides of time. But seeing her, I was stunned. I met her after days, or was it years? She looked so different! Her eyes sunk deep into the sockets as if something was sucking them in. Her once inflated cheeks were flat as a balloon pierced with a pin. The ‘pin’ of fate, perhaps.

The place where we met and the circumstances made it difficult for me to stand and talk to her. I had gone for a movie with Vishaal and there she was standing at the multiplex gate waiting for her husband to join her. We exchanged a few words and as Vishaal walked inside after showing our tickets, I quickly gave her my visiting card. My sixth sense told me that perhaps we wouldn’t be meeting inside the theatre. As the automated stairs glided up, I looked back at her. It seemed as if she really wanted to talk or she would have looked outside, as she was waiting for her husband to come. But the unspoken words were lost in the din around us. That very moment I was tempted to turn around but as if reading my mind Vishaal put an arm around my waist and held me close.

She turned to look outside when I reached the hall. I could not stop thinking about her. What had life done to her? She seemed like a shadow of the effervescent Tanya I knew in college. Had it something to do with her marriage? Was her husband disloyal to her? Or was it because of family problems? Numerous questions clogged my mind and I was not able to concentrate on the movie. Finally I gave up and rested my head on Vishaal’s shoulder, trying to come back to the ‘reels’ of life.

During the intermission I unknowingly searched for her but she was not there. Something I had expected already. I assumed that her husband had not turned up and she had left. I was glad that I had given her my number but having not taken hers, I had to now wait for her call.

For the rest of the day the attention I received from Vishaal put any thoughts of hers out of my mind. When we reached home, Vishaal kissed me goodnight, and the moment I saw him turn and walk away a strange fear gripped me. What did I fear? I did not know but I called out to Vishaal, walked towards him and gave him a tight hug. As he wrapped his protective arms around me I felt relieved.

Once inside my room the happenings of the day flooded back. Tanya had been the life of our class. She was always cheerful, smiling, making people laugh. Anyone who knew her would not believe that the girl at the multiplex today was she. Being a close friend I knew that she loved a guy from our class but she never had the courage to go and tell him. As I changed for the night, my mobile beeped, I knew it was Vishaal’s goodnight message. He did it every night. After replying back, I thought of Tanya once again. She loved that guy very dearly and I assumed that he had a part to play in what Tanya was today. Life had taken us on different trajectories, kept us too busy. We lost touch and I was not sure what had happened in the matters of her heart. Perhaps she never told him… perhaps she married a guy her parents had chosen and she was not happy; her husband was not loyal to her. The su-do-ku of her life seemed puzzling.

The next few days I waited for her call but it never came. Then, as days went by I became busy in my work and forgot about her till one day she called. The call, as well as her voice, was a pleasant surprise. She was once again the effervescent girl I had known! What had happened in these few days? What had catalyzed this change? I was eager to know!

We decided to meet at Bandstand - Bandra, place we used to meet during college. I reached the spot on time and found her already there. The glow on her face was warming. There was a man sitting next to her. Must be her husband, I assumed. It meant that things had worked out between them.
She gave a broad smile when she saw me coming. She introduced her companion as a friend. Now, what was happening? I could not put two and two together.

What she told me during the conversation came as a surprise. I had not imagined that such a thing might have happened to her. But, as they say, all’s well that ends well! I was happy for her. After going through so much in life she deserved to be happy. We chatted over pizzas, catching up for ol’ times sake! I was glad that she had worked things out. I would have felt guilty all my life having not been there for her when she needed me. It was a fact actually. I was more interested in watching the movie with Vishaal, the other day.
As we got up she gave me a tight hug and whispered, Thanks. What did she thank me for? What had I done to help her? She explained that seeing me at the multiplex had somehow infused confidence in her to take the decision. She also added that she admired me since college because I had been a decision-maker.

On the way back home, I thought about what she had told me. She was finally getting divorced from her husband who was none other than the guy she had loved in college. She had proposed after college; marrying him against the will of her parents. It was like a dream come true but within a few months it turned sour. Her husband was not the man she had loved once. The mask had finally slipped off when she caught him red-handed with another woman. The man who had accompanied her to the café had helped her to come out of the mess that her life was in. He was the friend in need. From what I gathered from his looks and his actions towards Tanya, he truly loved her. Perhaps she did too. But they did not want to hurry into any kind of commitment and I admired that. After all emotions too need the tides of time to germinate...

Her decision to marry the guy she loved had been a hasty call and I must admit that she was lucky that life had given her a second chance. And … the very next moment I thought of Vishaal.
When I met Vishaal and he moved to kiss me, I involuntarily stepped back.